Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a shadow on my gun again. Not the one the rifle puts on the wall, but a little blob that sits on top of the shadow of the telescopic sight, waving tiny limbs while I try to ignore it.
Getting rostered to frontier worlds comes with three guarantees: you’ll see new things, you’ll double your salary, and you might die so badly they name it after you.
This forested rock is Bondungeth. Its sun is artificial: that’s why there are a lot of scientists and engineers here. I and my dangerous colleagues are the mandated security. All we have is long days, short nights, and boredom.
Oh, to hell with it.
“You do know I can see you up there, don’t you?”
The limbs stop waving. It’s the weirdest thing, watching it straighten up and turn to reveal an angular head. It nods.
Whoa. There was no hesitation.
“You’ve done this before.”
The tiny limbs make ‘so-so’ moves. Oh, I know.
“You keep trying but nobody pays attention.”
“Okay, much as the mime show is fun, I’m guessing it’s not going to be enough?”
Another nod.
I press the communicator.
“Professor Rangol? Help. Please come quietly to my room.”
“Nothing improper?”
“Not from me. Just get here and prove I’m not hallucinating. Come straight in.”
Minutes later, she enters, closes the door, then looks about.
I point to the shadow. It waves. She slumps back to sit against the door, face gone white.
“What is that?”
“Not the vaguest clue. It’s been there ever since I arrived. Tonight I talked to it and got a response. So far, I know it’s tried to speak to others, but been ignored. What we need is a way to talk.
She gets up and moves closer, pulling out a detector of some kind. Watching the shadow move like it’s owner is watching the examination is eerily amusing.
“A slight quiver here and there. We need bigger sensors.”
Crouching down next to my rifle, she grins.
“Greetings. Are you native to this planet?”
I butt in.
“Is your message urgent?”
Vigorous nodding.
Rangol gestures for me to continue. Okay, then.
“Are we in danger?”
“Do we have a year?”
“A month?”
“Can we fight?”
“Can you speak our language?”
“Can you write it?”
Not useful. Okay, soldier. Think.
“Professor, you know of anything big happening in the next six months?”
“Actually, yes. The sun will go dark to our view. It rotates, and there’s and narrow segment that doesn’t emit light. Will last a few days down here. First time since we’ve been here.”
The shadow is frantically waving it’s arms about.
Shadow… Dark… Is it that simple?
“So the threat arises when it goes dark?”
Rangol snaps her fingers.
“When it stays dark for longer than the longest night?”
But it’s something we can fight? No. Don’t presume.
“Prof, I’m not up for fighting unknowns. That’s a good way for everyone to die badly. What say we scatter those big sensors you mentioned all over, then withdraw to orbit during the dark time? The ship’s got full-spectrum lights, so should be safe. Once we work out what we’re facing, we can plan to deal with it, or put avoidance measures in place.”
The shadow is doing what looks like a little dance of joy.
She nods.
“I like it. Meanwhile, you, me, and few selected specialists can work on getting this saviour a vocabulary we can share.”
It and I nod at the same time. She laughs.